Let me start off by clearly answering the question…..YES, if not necessary to have health.
The resistance to homework seems to be at the forefront for those of us in public school systems. Facebook posts are floating around about the parental struggles with their children getting homework done.
I am a mother of 3 kids. All of which have homework every night. I am also a student that has regular homework assignments. Although I hate testing for many reasons from a developmental and confidence issue, as a clinician I say, “How do you evaluate change if you don’t measure something?” I do not “practice” the test with my patients, but I do give them homework that is designed to improve the outcome of the test. In physical therapy we use functional outcomes.
In our family’s past, we initially tried Montessori school. From a rehabilitation standpoint, I loved the tactile learning, the free flow thinking and the practical activity learning (clean up, make food, tie your shoes etc). I also loved the “no homework” rule.
Our Montessori school education was short lived as we had significant difficulty with a bullying situation and poor adult interventions to address the abnormal behavior. What the school considered “normal behavior”, we considered otherwise.
Long story short, we removed all of our kids from this learning environment. No matter how we looked at this, the behavior was NOT normal and the children needed help, not punishment. We settled into public school with the acceptance of imperfection. Our kids are thriving now. Bullying happens, but each one of our teachers has been very open and available to our kids.
The real point to the story is that now, we have homework.
For the most part, homework doesn’t bother me too much, because my kids don’t mind doing it. They get home, grab a snack and settle in to doing his/her homework. They know that the extracurricular activities can only be done if we get our personal responsibilities, including homework, done first.
Recently, my daughter who is only 6 years old, has woken up by 6 AM twice remembering she didn’t finish all of her homework. This of course, is after we had in fact done homework the night before and even had big brother help.
Although I take some pride in her efforts to do as she is asked and even take personal responsibility over her homework, I inherently as a health advocate resent the idea that she misses any sleep over homework.
If we got rid of homework, my family would survive.
My kids love reading. They love playing outside. I love having them available to help around the house consistently like setting the table for dinner, emptying the dishwasher, doing their laundry, gathering eggs from the chickens, and even simply sitting by themselves.
All of these things are important life skills. And yes, homework can take away from this time. But so can all the sporting activities. So can video games. So can watching television.
Based on the story above, you would assume, and rightfully so, that I am opposed to ALL homework. Yet, I stand by my answer that you do need homework to have health.
I use homework with every single physical therapy patient. Every patient is given homework relevant to solving his/her personal problem. It is customized to their needs and lifestyle. In fact, if they don’t do any homework, they do not improve their condition. I focus on simple homework meaning one or two things that help to resolve their pain. I do not bombard them with 5-10 exercises. And sometimes the homework could be as simple as go to bed by 9PM every night. Or eat real whole food at every meal. Neither of those homework assignments are easy per se, but they are simple.
The most important components are that the homework has relevancy and is achievable.
The BEST homework is simple and relevant.
The important thing about the homework I give is that the patient/client learns something about his/herself. Either they learn how to make themselves better or they learn what makes them worse. If nothing happens, then guess what….we change the homework. Even if homework is simple and relevant, does not mean easy. I never said I give patients a free pass. Yet maybe they do need to just sit and breath for 20’ a day for a week. These simple and relevant homework assignments can have a huge impact.
I suggest we redefine public school homework, not get rid of it.
Let the homework be something that helps them synthesize information in a creative way without grades over rote memorization. Let it be learning to be able to sit with yourself and draw or dream or breath or meditate. Let it be learning to use your math and count the dishes as you unload them. Let it be playing outside in the dirt finding bugs. Let it be snuggling with their pet or parent. Let it be learning to appreciate a nutritious meal and savor each bite over rushing to eat to get to the next activity or even doing homework while eating.
I worry if we get rid of homework all together though that it will just allow families to continue to overbook their children. Or find another babysitter like the TV or videogames.
Really, I understand the need for testing and for homework. I just ask that we listen. If my daughter wakes up at 6AM to do homework, I am not OK with that.
I don’t mind if she struggles a bit to do her homework, I expect that in life. Life is a struggle sometimes.
Yet, she shouldn’t lose sleep over pleasing her teacher at 6 years old. There is plenty of time in life for disappointments later, now is not the time. All she needs is good habits, the desire to learn and grow.
My request of healthy homework is:
What I will do if teachers got rid of homework or if they make homework be less time consuming:
What I won’t do if teachers get rid of homework:
I can’t speak to other parents and how they would use their time, but I hope it would be similar.
Is homework healthy?
Homework is healthy when it is relevant and simple.
I do my assignments for my degree, but they take thought, patience and planning, yet they don’t consume me every… single…night. It disrupts the creative process having to do it every day. Maybe that’s where the healthy balance is….not daily homework but weekly or biweekly or even monthly. I have one course at a time and one assignment at a time over a few weeks. Sounds more reasonable to expect this from a child.
All this busy work takes away from time learning to listen to your body, to solve everyday problems like what to make for dinner. If we don’t allow young kids to be comfortable with boredom then we may have mental health issues later. If we don’t allow young kids to learn the basic fundamentals of living like eating well, sleeping well and moving well then we create a future of illness even if they can take a test.
I do not ignore the need to be able to pass a test, but homework needs to be functionally related to home life. Either work applying concepts of school to home or participating in being a part of a family….neither of those are on a piece of paper or on a screen. Yes, I could homeschool my kids. It is an option. Yet, we strive to teach our kids how to soar in an imperfect environment. It’s this thing called “life.” I am still homeschooling even though I haven’t taken them out of public school. I still believe in many of the teachers within the broken system. They are champions of "making lemonade out lemons." Yes, the school system is fractured as is the health care system. That doesn't mean that there aren't wonderful teachers and doctors trying to mend the breaks.
We have a lot of work to do for sure. Demonizing homework isn't the first step, redefining homework is.
If your child is struggling with homework, then have a talk with the teacher. They will never know it is a problem if you don't talk to them. I discussed our homework struggle with her teacher, and guess what...we made a plan to make the homework more relevant and simple, for my daughter. She hasn't woken up at 6AM since. It took some communication, but now we are good.
Simple and relevant homework will create mental and physical health that will translate to improved test scores, just like it does on the functional outcome forms for painful conditions.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove excessive homework requirements and blaming.
Replace with simple and relevant homework. Communicate with your child's teacher if there are struggles. No matter the issue with homework, the basic foundational habits are key to success of eat well, move well, sleep well. Try adjusting those habits before blaming homework all together.
Restore happiness and an intelligent well-adjusted child.
Eat Well. Move Well. Sleep Well. Soar On….with or without homework.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.